“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.” (Ecclesiastes 5:1)
Going to the house of God has always been an important event for God’s people. During the days wandering in the wilderness, the tabernacle was literally at the center of the camp, symbolizing the central role God played in the lives of his people. When Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem, it became the focal of point of Israel’s religious life. In the New Testament, Christians—stones being built into God’s house (1 Pet 2:5)—gathered together on the first day of the week to worship the God who redeemed them.
In Ecclesiastes 5:1, the Preacher warns God’s people about the way they approach God’s house. “Guard your steps” is not an injunction against tripping over your feet coming into the church building, but a warning against irreverent mindsets toward worship. When we enter the house of God we “draw near to listen.” Listening is more than politely taking in the sights and sounds of worship. The one who draws near to listen comes to worship out of reverence for God with eagerness to hear what he has to say so that he can go and obey him. This listening “is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools.” Note that the fool is present at worship and participates in it. But his sacrifice is irreverent and evil. He may check all five worship boxes, but he does not please God. Sadly, the sacrificing fool is unaware of this: “for they do not know that they are doing evil.”
The story of Saul and the Amalekites illustrates the difference between drawing near to listen and the sacrifice of fools. God commanded Saul to annihilate any living thing among the Amalekites, yet Saul spared the best of the livestock. When the prophet Samuel chastised Saul for his disobedience, Saul countered, “but the people took of the spoil…to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” (1 Sam 15:21). Samuel responded, “has the Lord as great delight in burnt offering and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams” (1 Sam 15:22). If Saul really revered God, he would have listened and obeyed, not ignored God and then try to make it up with a hasty sacrifice.
When sacrificing fools approach the house of God, they ingest some kosher crackers & Welch’s, and do their penance to appease God so they can return to living life on their own terms. In their checklist religion, “they do not know that they are doing evil.” When true disciples approach the house of God, they reverently come to listen so that they can obey God.